I’m all for leaning on technology to make healthy living easier, and apps can be incredibly useful to help you establish and maintain healthy habits. Whether your goal is to lose weight, get fit, lower stress, sleep better, practice gratitude, or any number of healthy habits, there’s (as they say) an app for that. Here are some of my favorite apps that help you ease into lifestyle changes, track your healthy habits, and live more healthfully.
Meditation is a top healthy habit because it not only helps you take stress down a notch, but it also impacts your stress hormones (and thereby, fat storage), puts you in better control of your food choices, and can help reduce impulsive eating. These are just a few of the extensive benefits of a meditation practice, so if you’re looking to live more healthfully, adding meditation to your health and wellness routine makes total sense. Of all the meditation apps I’ve tried, this is the one I’ve stuck with for a couple of reasons. For starters, it’s free, yet it offers a robust library of meditations. You can sort based on time (as little as 1 minute for the skeptics out there!), or a need state (such as sleep, focus, reducing stress, and so on). If you find instructors you like, you can follow them, and if there’s a meditation that you want to come back to over and over, you can bookmark it. It’s truthfully one of my favorite apps!
This is a popular paid meditation app and there’s plenty to like about it. Part of a meditation experience is how you react to the voice guiding you. If the voice is jarring or irritating, it kind of defeats the purpose. The voice on this app is ahhhh-mazing! Plus, the initial series is a really good intro to guided meditation. Headspace’s website has a great blog and really approachable info about meditation, including video content that breaks the practice down. If you’re new to meditation or you’re someone who thinks you could never stay present in a mindfulness practice, you’ll pick up some great insight and pointers. But don’t get me wrong: This app has much more than meditations for newbies. You’ll find meditations to help you ease stress and anxiety, deal with emotional eating, help improve your sports game, sleep more soundly, and more. Like Insight Timer, you can find bite-size meditations for days you’re time-starved and longer ones when you have less going on.
There are times when it can be useful to keep a food log, and these apps make it easy to keep track of what you’re eating. Let’s say you’re trying to eat more veggies or cut back on added sugars. Journaling can show you if you’re meeting the mark, and it can reveal other opportunities for improvement. The one place I see people trip up with these apps is to set a calorie guideline and then make sure they enjoy every last calorie in their range. This can be problematic because it discourages you from listening to your body (maybe you’re not even hungry), which can lead to overeating. But setting that aside, these apps can be useful for providing valuable feedback about your diet, and there’s no question that a nutritious diet is essential for healthful living!
For those of you carrying an iPhone or wearing an Apple Watch, this is one of the most useful apps around. It tracks your steps (assuming the device is on you) and other activity if you connect it to another third-party app. Besides fitness, it can connect to other apps to help you keep track of your sleep, eating patterns, and your mindfulness practice. But what I like best about it is the step counter and activity tracker because on days when my activity is really light, it might inspire me to step outside and move a little.
I downloaded this app in my hotel room in Santa Monica while I was filming a Cooking Channel show a few years ago. The hotel was noisy and I was desperate for sleep and this app really helped! Our bodies are wired to need seven to nine hours of sleep each night and when you fall short, it can disrupt your focus (beyond just feeling tired), weaken your immunity, and disrupt the hormones that regulate your appetite. If you’re on the road in a noisy hotel, have noisy neighbors, or there’s occasional noise that disrupts your sleep, you’re going to want to get this app ASAP. There are tons of soothing sounds to help you tune out more disruptive noises, and you can set it on a timer or let it run all night. I use mine in my loud NYC apartment every night, and even when I’m in quieter places, I enjoy falling asleep to the sound of rain drizzling on a tent. That’s my favorite sound, but you can choose the one that suits you!
This is one app that I don’t personally use, but it comes highly recommended by a colleague who’s a dietitian and marathon runner. I tested it out to see what all the hype is about and I can see why it gets rave reviews. You can select a training program (like a 5K run) or a piece of equipment (like an elliptical), and get a workout set to music you enjoy. Unlike many apps that take you through a video workout, this app is audio-only, so you can take it to the gym or the park (though there are also plenty of options for home workouts, too). What’s cool about it is it gives you the prompts and music you’d experience in a group fitness class, but you don’t have to deal with the group schedules or cult vibes. And it takes the best part of spin class (the music and interval training) to other equipment (like the treadmill and elliptical). Though there’s a monthly fee, you can try it out for free to see if it helps you.
Don’t overlook the free resources available on You Tube. There are endless amounts of fitness videos to choose from, and if you land on an instructor you like, you can follow their feed for more. You can also find cooking videos, nutrition content, and guided meditations. Obviously, I haven’t vetted all of the content available, but it’s a goldmine of info to help you live more healthfully!
If you’re using apps to live more healthfully, you might want to download Habit Bull, which helps you track any number of healthy habits that you set as goals. For instance, you might want to set a habit to stick to one drink a day or to work out twice a week or to eat two veggies with dinner each night. You can keep track of any of these goals with this app. Then, you can view how you’re doing on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. A green dot indicates you achieved the goal on that date; yellow means you didn’t hit the goal, but you didn’t need to so it’s all good; and red means you broke your habit streak. You can also set how long you want to track a given habit. Researchers who study habit formation say it takes about 66 days to form a habit (though it can vary, depending on the difficulty level of what you’re trying to tackle) so I’d suggest attempting a new habit for this length of time. What’s interesting about habit formation is that the science shows that occasionally breaking the streak (as indicated by a red dot on this app) won’t interfere with your progress as long as you resume again immediately. And participants report that taking this type of habit-forming approach helps living healthfully become second nature; some said they felt odd on days they didn’t participate in their new healthy behavior. One final note on tracking healthy habits: An app is fun and visual, but don’t get carried away! Taking on too many things at once can feel overwhelming so start with one or two things that you believe you can successfully achieve. Once you hit your goal, add another goal knowing that you’re already killing it!
I hope these apps help you live more healthfully! If you have a favorite app that I haven’t reviewed here, please let me know so I can check it out!